Keep the Pedals Turning

One thing all riders need to sustain their trips is fuel, and the latest short piece Jacob Martin cooked up explores the topic of bikepacking food. Read about the foods he eats to keep the pedals turning, find the story of his best camp meal ever, and share your go-to snacks and recipes here…

Eat. Eat. Eat. It’s a basic of bikepacking. If you stop eating, the pedals will stop turning.

Someone once told me we should eat three times as much as we normally would. I’m not sure how true that is, but I know from experience that you can’t eat too much while on a multi-day bike trip. More than once, I’ve felt I can’t actually eat enough. The tank has been emptying faster than it can be refilled.

  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food

I kinda like it; I can eat anything I want, whenever I want.

Another slice of cake?

Yes please!

However, it can be tricky, especially while far away from civilization. We must carry everything we want to eat and a way to cook it. You might simply be boiling water for a readymade camping meal, or you might be all-out making a meal from scratch. Each of us has our own little cooking system defined by the foods we cook and how we cook them.

Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food

You might have a gas stove for speed and convenience or a multi-fuel stove as finding the fuel is easier in the far corners of the world; maybe you cook on an open fire where it is safe to do so or quite possibly leave the stove behind and eat your dinner cold. We’re not all the same; some of us just need the food inside us to fill the empty void left by the miles we cycled that day—to refill the tank ready to continue tomorrow. For others, that’s not enough. They need good food and flavor; they take their time and buy the best ingredients. That’s a tough task while on a bike, I’m sure.

  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food

Generally, I’m not that fussed with fancy food. I’m more than happy to eat pasta every night. Though if I’m just out for a night, I’m far more likely to bring some more luxuries. Weight is less of a priority, and a pack of sausages should last out of the fridge for a short while, right? Cooking up a feast can be good fun on a little overnighter, shortening the ride to spend more time enjoying the camp life. Even better with a little fire, my favourite way to cook. It’s more relaxed and primitive than the roar and rush of a gas burner, and it will keep the insects at bay for the evening. Plus, our clothes will smell like adventure upon our return home.

Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food

My friend Max is one of those people who really appreciate good food; he wasn’t a huge fan of my cooking. One day, Max, Anna, and I were in Jokkmokk, a town in Sweden that sits right on the Arctic Circle. We had stopped for our first rest day after 10 days of riding on the European Divide Trail, and we needed a good hearty meal to revive our bodies and prepare us for the thousands of kilometres still ahead of us. However, we’d arrived on a Sunday, and everywhere but the supermarket was closed. Max went in and bought more food than Anna and I thought we could ever eat. “We’re only here for one rest day, Max,” we told him. “And how on earth are we going to cook all this?!” One of Max’s strengths inherited from his family is cooking, though, and he knew what he was doing, no matter how little we believed.

  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food

A couple of hours later, he had conjured up—with just three tiny cooking pots and the embers of a fire made with a few small logs left by the last campsite users—a bikepacking meal like no other. I’m not sure how he made it happen. It was quite the feast, with multiple dishes and courses. In short, it was exactly what we needed that day. It was the best bikepacking meal I’ve ever had by a good few miles. Oh, and there were leftovers for our next meal, too.

Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food

For me, this was quite the exception when it comes bikepacking meals. Most camp meals I’ve ever made are basic, crude, and probably not that good for me. I never know what to buy when I walk into a shop for a resupply. My tired eyes haze over, I get confused, and I wander around the supermarket aisles like I’m lost in the mountains on a foggy day. It’s even harder when you’re crossing borders regularly and can’t find the same thing twice. At the same time, it’s quite interesting. You find new and different foods everywhere you go.

Most of the time, I start the day with porridge. I feel it fuels me well for long days and is pretty easy to make in the morning, typically flavoured with some honey, sultanas, and a banana if it didn’t get too mushed up the day before. In the final week of our bikepacking trip across Europe, I was known to melt a whole bar of chocolate into the mix. Before you say it, yes, I know it’s not the most healthy, but an easy extra 500 calories was what our bodies needed at that point, and it tasted great!

  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food

The double breakfast is a pretty common occurrence on my bikepacking trips, too. I remember one well during a trip around the Lake District. We had to fill up the tank for the upcoming mountain passes and hours of hike-a-bike. I would eat my usual breakfast at the campsite, then stop when we dropped into a village to find a cafe for the second. We did the same once or twice as we cycled through France. I remember stopping in a hotel in the mountains for a second breakfast. We found a buffet with no limit, possibly the wildest dream of any hungry bikepacker. We sat there among hotel guests, probably pretty dirty and quite smelly, having slept in the forest, and we feasted like royalty. Returning to our world well-filled and ready for the day ahead, we agreed it was 12 euros extremely well spent.

After second breakfast, my typical day will then be filled with many a snack, plenty of trail mix, and something cobbled together for lunch. Then, once the day’s riding is done and a camp spot is found, I’ll get my little stove out again and make some dinner. I may have carried this food for days or picked it up in the last town I passed through. I’m sure many others have tastier and more refined evening meals than me; I usually default to the tried-and-tested pasta. Tortellini is my favourite if I can find it, with some sort of sauce and whatever else I can find chucked in.

Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food
  • Keep the pedals turning, Bikepacking Food

We’re all so very different and so very much the same. We must all eat, and when we’re doing a lot of exercise, we must eat a lot, but I love how we can all do it so very differently and for so many reasons.

Keep the pedals turning. Eat. Eat. Eat.

I’m be quite interested to hear what everyone else eats while out on bikepacking trips. Do you have a go-to meal or snack? Are you happy with whatever fills the tank, or do you need something a little more tasty? Give me and everyone else a little camp cooking inspiration in the conversation below!

Jacob Martin

About Jacob Martin

Jacob Martin is a maker of things from Pembrokeshire, Wales. His goal is to make and do the things that he finds truly interesting in the world. He shares his stories through his blog and newsletter at MidNowhere.co.uk and can regularly be found on instagram @mid_nowhere.

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